In 2001 UK artist Jeremy Deller restaged the Battle of Orgreave, a violent 1984 clash between Yorkshire miners and police during the UK miners’ strike, and one of the many dark events of the Thatcher years. 2001 was an interesting moment to choose for such a restaging; this incident of the Thatcher years was 17 years past and not at the front of anyone’s consciousness. Perhaps this very amnesia was part of Deller’s motivation. In the historical reconstruction he employed 800 people, including 284 local community members many of whom had actually been involved in the strike and even the clash itself. In some cases those who had been miners played police in the reconstruction, and vice versa. The restaging was filmed by director Mike Figgis for a Channel 4 TV documentary.
The death of Maggie Thatcher this week brought Deller’s piece to mind again, since Thatcher was of course the origin of those dire events in Yorshire. It’s a brilliant, affecting artwork. This is probably an unauthorized video (not mine) and I’m not sure how long it will stay up, so it’s worth watching while you can.
George Norris, the artist who made what is arguably Vancouver’s most famous piece of public art—a giant steel crab in front of the Vancouver Museum and Planetarium—has died in Victoria. It’s odd that so few know Norris’s name, considering the crab’s popularity, how prolific he was in his career, and his long art teaching career in Vancouver and Banff.
Vancouver does have a long history of ignoring its own artists even as they’re celebrated elsewhere, but I’m still surprised that so many of Norris’ public pieces have been removed and destroyed, including the tall steel piece below which used to stand outside Pacific Centre downtown. This post is just a small reminder of Norris’ work. Find more information— here and many more works here.
One of Norris’ most popular works is the frieze on the exterior of the post office at 8th and Pine (I believe that’s the corner). Photo below.
Norris was trained in Vancouver and London at the Slade School. Norris is the uncle of award-winning Vancouver artist Arabella Campbell.
221A is pleased to present Cube Living (Phase 2), a 4-week artist-in-residence with artist and designer Alex Grünenfelder, running from January 23 to February 25, 2013. Grünenfelder will examine how real estate developments operate as containers that capture living space as urban spatial commodities through the packaging of bodies, objects, lifestyles, identities, capital and politics.
Grünenfelder will begin a limited release of micro-properties measuring 1 cubic foot. This innovative product addresses the stagnation and endemic unaffordability of Vancouver’s real estate market. In developing a spatial commodity that can be purchased in very small units, Cube Living is able to offer affordable properties at prices under $50! Micro-properties are an accessible solution to the inflated real estate market crisis that threatens to push Vancouver’s economy into decline.
Many Vancouver residents find it difficult or impossible to enter the market. Despite government urban densification policies that have brought 10,000 new condo units to the city each year,  Vancouver remains the second least-affordable city in the world. 
Vancouver has experienced explosive real estate development since 1986. In the 2000s, then-mayor Sam Sullivan’s Ecodensity program initiated radical urban densification with the aim of promoting housing affordability and environmentally sustainable neighbourhoods. Pundits declared that flooding the market with new condos would result in more affordable—or at least stable—prices, so that new buyers could purchase small units and eventually trade up into a larger living space. Buildings got taller and condos got smaller, but prices have kept rising. Development and construction hasn’t been able to meet the goal of affordability and now the city is faced with a dire situation.
“The current property market is almost saturated. Sales are in decline because people can’t afford to lower their asking prices. We need to expand into new markets, and the only way to produce a lower tier of affordable entry-level properties is to create highly liquid, easily tradeable micro-spaces. This is the only way to address the affordability crisis within our market-driven real-estate economy.”
RBC. “Vancouver’s housing market: moderation in store but vulnerable to a harsher outcome.” April 2012. Page 6. http://www.rbc.com/economics/market/pdf/vancouverhouse.pdf
This is one of the more interesting short talks I’ve listened to, and I’m posting it here in the hope that it gets wider distribution. It was presented by Elvy Del Bianco, a researcher with major BC credit union VanCity, itself a cooperative. Del Bianco’s position at VanCity is quite unique; his job is to research the relationship between arts and innovation and promote a cooperative business model in an attempt to foster social capital locally. What is social capital? Well, the short answer is that it’s the various benefits of cooperation. Del Bianco explains using the model of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, one of the most profitable in the EU thanks to its “lego economics” in which smaller businesses (balsamic vinegar, parmesan, even Ferrari) combine resources to leverage economic power. Culture both plays a role in and benefits from this model. It is also interesting to note that the region is not just wealthy but is one of the most democratic anywhere, with a small income gap in what is historically a left-wing Italian heartland with a long history of employee-owned companies.
Below is Del Bianco’s 6-minute talk at Vancouver’s Pecha Kucha, and it’s well worth watching no matter where you live. The audio is a little challenging at points, and as I found out when I spoke at Pecha Kucha, you have to speak quickly if you want to fit complex ideas into a 6 minute spiel. But it’s an extremely interesting talk. His comments the challenges facing arts and culture in Vancouver are interesting; he talks about condo development speculation driving unaffordability, as well as the massive, unique-in-Canada massive cuts to cultural investment on the part of BC’s provincial government.
Bianco is himself an artist, having worked many years as an actor after training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He grew up in East Vancouver.
A retrospective of the work of Vancouver designer Tobias Wong (1974-2010) opens tonight at the Museum of Vancouver. It’s curated by Todd Falkowsky who, along with his colleagues at the Canadian Design Resource, has perhaps done more to promote Canadian design and designers than anyone else, at least in the last decade. Tobias died two years ago at the young age of 35. The Museum of Vancouver show in his memory is titled (Object)ing: The art/design of Tobias Wong, and it refers to the fact that Wong did make objects, but he made objects that questioned and often objected to the way in which we make and consume objects. His work sat on the border of art and design; he treated design as sculpture. This show brings Tobias’ work to Vancouver, his hometown.
I became more familiar with Tobias’ work when I was in a group design show with him at the Royal Ontario Museum. That show too was curated by Todd along with his colleagues at the well-known Canadian creative agency Motherbrand. It was titled Cut / Copy / Paste and featured work from designers whose methods employ various types of bricolage or re-purposing: perhaps recruiting an object recruited for a new use, or a designer appropriating another designer’s work, or the hybridization of formerly distinct objects. In the photo below my piece is just behind Tobias’ renowned illuminated chair – a Philippe Starck chair to which he had added an internal lamp. (Photo below; mine’s a quilt made of souvenir, made-in-Japan “Amik” (beaver) mascot scarves from the Montreal 1976 Olympics.) Tobias’ chair will be on view at the MoV in this show.
For more infomation, see Marsha Lederman’s article on the current Museum of Vancouver show and Tobias’ work in general here. There is also this nice short bio from citizen:citizen:
originally from canada, tobias wong (b.1974) studied art at cooper union in new york city, where he graduated in sculpture. veering across disciplines and materials, wong has created an oeuvre that is immediately accessible, yet contentious. he pursues his own brand of conceptualism, the self coined “paraconceptual,” and “postinteresting,” and uses design as a medium, as he says, to expose the similarities between art and design, rather than to blur their boundaries.
Tobias’ Savoy doorstop, created by pouring concrete into Alvar Aalto’s famous Savoy vase (below). Its production requires the destruction of the vase, thus relegating the glass status object to the function of a mere mold.
By Todd Falkowsky, co-curator of Object(ing): The art/design of Tobias Wong
The first time I met Tobias Wong was in New York City in 2004, where we both had shows at the Felissimo House. As I was setting up my space, a small, very pleasant guy kept circling around and nodding his approval at what we were installing. As we were finishing, he finally came forward and introduced himself as a “big fan”. We chatted about the work and he shared some thoughts. It was only after he left, when I asked the curator who he was, did I find out that it was Tobias. Humble, interested, and filled with ideas. It was a genuine pleasure to meet someone with so much talent introduce himself as a fan when in fact he was a celebrated artist/designer with his star on an explosive rise. Well, the feeling was mutual.
I knew that designers appreciated Tobi’s work, but I realized his influence had run deeper when I was teaching at OCAD in Toronto. I was pleasantly surprised by how many design students wanted to do work like his. They were not looking to be designers in the traditional sense, but to become provocative and use product design as a mirror and comment on the status and purpose of our culture. They did not want to be Starck or Rashid; instead they wanted to be Tobias Wong, the artist who used design to break the rules. Tobi’s ideas and approach had impact on design practice, inviting designers to use their craft to create serious meaning and new ways of interacting with our communities.
This blog is a long, meandering photo essay on design, both of objects and cities. More on its rationale and bias is below. To read about me, click here.
To read about my book project on Vancouver's UN-Habitat Forum event of 1976 concerning sustainable urban settlements, click here. Few seem to know that Buckminster Fuller, Margaret Mead, Mother Teresa, Paolo Soleri and Maggie & Pierre Trudeau, along with many thousands of others, came to Vancouver in 1976 to talk about better, safer, fairer and more sustainable cities worldwide. In fact it was the founding conference of UN-Habitat, an agency that was subsequently built around a document called The Vancouver Declaration. My book is about what happened that year. It's a snapshot not just of Vancouver but of how cities around the world began to view themselves differently in the wake of the first oil crisis.
This blog is a long, somewhat messy photo essay on design. I started it because I wanted to restore to a sense of history to design, if only for myself. History can be fugitive, particularly in the New World. Everything is so decontextualized in the current stream of commodities; don't even get me started on tumblr and pinterest.
As far as design goes, I prefer the modern and the ancient to the eras that lie in between. I've never really liked cathedrals; I find them garish and oppressive. I prefer the space-age, the futurist and the rustic, the utopian and the anti-utopian, the unstuffy and the unstaid, the green, the possibly-not-entirely-lost promise of the 1960s and 70s, the creative, the practical, the ingenious, the mixed, the unorthodox, and the way people actually live in real spaces. I am interested in bricolage, in making do, and in the way necessity mothers invention.
I like the sheer level of cultural borrowing evident in design, the actual impurity of design traditions long considered pure, and just generally the wild miscegenation of everything.
This is not to say that all mixing is good. I'm definitely not talking about the faux-historification of our cities, the demolition of our actual past followed by its replacement with a faux nineteenth-century 'originality'. That's when you get elements of the past and the future, combining to make something not quite as good as either.
Because design is never divorced from anything else, this long essay is also about urban planning, philosophy, art, political economy, architecture, sociology, geography, neurology, pyschology and anything else that pertains to design, which is everything.
The word "ouno" is a name in both Finnish and Japanese, my two favourite nations for design. Apropos of nothing, the word also contains the symbols for both zero and one, and it's the same right side up as upside down. My dad was a mathematician in love with puzzles, and that is maybe why those things please me so much.
This blog makes no attempt to avoid being nerdy or critical. There are plenty of nicey-nice design blogs out there and if that's what you're looking for, you will find many of those, and I wouldn't blame you for going there. I just think that without critique and complaint, the design of cities and dwellings in North America won't get any better. And it needs to get a lot better than it is—less creatively impoverished, more democratic and a lot more pleasurable. We do after all spend almost all of our lives in buildings and towns and cities and altered landscapes, all of which have a overwhelming impact on our conscious lives, our unconscious lives, our health, intelligence, creativity and our social interactions. These things affect us every moment of our lives whether we're aware of them or not. And not only do we need more humane spaces in which to live, we need—above all—to ensure affordable housing for all. Without this, all our interest in decor is just privileged fiddling while Rome (or insert your city here) burns. Housing is a human right. Public policy and regulation are the only ways to insure people are housed and can afford to live in the cities where they work. The market and private industry are not going to get us there.
We all need to fight the worsening property speculation! Dear Canada and the USA and beyond, quit letting developers run—and ruin—this show.